Title Reviewed:
A History of Missouri. Volume I, 1673 to 1820

Author Reviewed:
William E. Foley

Donald E. Baker


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 68, Issue 2, pp 163-164

Article Type:
Book Review

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A History of Missouri. Volume I, 1673 to 1820. By William E. Foley. Missouri Sesquicentennial History. Edited by William E. Parrish. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1971. Pp. ix, 237. Illustration, notes, essay on sources, index. $9.50.)

The Missouri Sesquicentennial History is a projected set of five volumes, each by a different author, designed as "a general survey of the broad political, social, intellectual, and economic trends, rather than a highly detailed study of each period" (pp. ix-x). In volume one William E. Foley deals with the nearly 150 years of Missouri's progress from a wilderness to the threshold of statehood. The treatment does indeed explore the broader aspects of the subject although it sometimes exhibits a certain shallowness due to an evident determination to keep the text short. Unfortunately, the author mars parts of the narrative, especially near the beginning, with a tendency to over romanticize and to fill in from his imagination literary transitions that his material could not provide: "As dawn broke amidst the dying echoes of the lively chants and the smoldering embers of the previous night's fires, a stillness settled over the fort high atop the Missouri bluffs" (p. 132). Such passages probably represent an attempt to avoid stilted academic prose, but they may tend to lessen the writer's credibility with some readers.

Accounts of the administrations of Governors James Wilkinson and Meriwether Lewis and of Missouri's earlier uncomfortable adjuncting to Indiana Territory make up the heart of the book. Though only five years are involved, 1804–1809, Foley allots nearly one third of his text to a much fuller "general survey" of this period than he presents of others. He acknowledges, for example, that personalities "played an important role in shaping the political climate of territorial Missouri" (p. 204) but is usually able to provide only the barest introduction to even the most important figures. In the chapters on these five years, however, several characters, Wilkinson especially, emerge more completely as personalities. Similarly, politics takes short shrift elsewhere, but here Foley devotes much of his time to an enlightening treatment of the chaos produced by uncertain Spanish land grants, the question which "more than any other dominated politics throughout Missouri's territorial period" (p. 83). His style, too, adopts a more temperate, straightforward approach which neither succumbs to stuffiness nor stoops to hackneyed literary devices.

The price of these excellent chapters is an attenuated discussion of the years following the War of 1812. Most surprising is the almost total neglect of the statehood movement which culminated in the momentous Missouri Compromise debates. There is a brief summary of nonpolitical developments for these later years, but references to political matters are so general they almost seem an introduction to the next volume, where it is assumed the subject of approaching statehood will be more particularly treated.

Criticisms here notwithstanding, within the parameters of the project in which Foley was engaged he has managed a great bulk of material well. The general reader, to whom the Sesquicentennial History is apparently directed, will probably consider this book a more than satisfactory rendering of the history of early Missouri, while the specialist can benefit from the concise overview of the subject and especially the model essay on sources.

Dayton, Ohio

Donald E. Baker

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.